By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Republican-led Minnesota legislature approved late Saturday putting a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to voters in November 2012.
The Minnesota House of Representatives voted 70 to 62 after about five hours of discussion, cementing the amendment's place on the ballot for 2012. The Senate approved the proposed amendment earlier in May largely along party lines.
Minnesota law already bans gay marriage, but amendment sponsors argued that a constitutional amendment would ensure legislators or a small group of judges could not change that.
"This is not about hatred, it is not about discrimination or intolerance," Republican Representative Steve Gottwalt said of the amendment. "I have faith we as Minnesotans can have a reasonable dialogue on this issue characterized by respect and decency and allow the people of Minnesota to decide."
Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, who strongly opposes any constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, has no power to stop lawmakers from putting an amendment on the ballot.
Protesters supporting and opposing the amendment could be heard demonstrating outside the House chambers for days and anti-amendment chants were audible after the vote.
The amendment is "a real ill-advised attempt to use our constitution to place an important question out of reach of the elected officials and to impose our will in the year 2011 on future generations 100, 200, 300 or more years from now," Democratic Representative Steve Simon said.
Democrats questioned the drive for the constitutional amendment with the state budget still unresolved. They also said they were concerned it would lead to a divisive political campaign over the next 18 months to the election.
"Millions and millions of dollars will be poured into this state on both sides and the pain and agony that I have witnessed in this chamber this evening will be all over Minnesota," Democratic Representative Kerry Gauthier said.
Republican Representative John Kriesel, who was severely wounded in the Iraq war, said the amendment did not represent the state and country he fought.
"If there was a 'hell no' button right here, I would press it, that would be the one I'd press," Kriesel said. "But unfortunately I just have 'nay' and that's the one I am going to press."
Republican legislative leaders and Dayton reported little progress Saturday in closing a $5.1 billion gap in the state's two-year budget by the end of the session at midnight Monday. Most observers expect a special session to be required.
The vote came a day after Gallup released a national poll that found a slim majority of Americans believed same-sex marriage should be recognized. It was the first majority in the 15 years since Gallup began polling on the subject.
Support was heavily divided on party lines in the Gallup poll with the gains entirely from Democrats and independents and no change in support among Republicans.
Five U.S. states allow same-sex marriage, but only one in the Midwest, Iowa. Gay couples also have the right to marry in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
Twenty-nine states have adopted constitutional amendments restricting marriage as between a man and a woman, and 12 other states have passed laws to that effect, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Tim Gaynor)